"When I'm not interested or unavailable, I believe that Yes should carry on": Steve Howe on the future of Yes and his new version of Tales From Topographic Oceans

Steve Howe onstage with Yes
(Image credit: Daniel Knighton/Getty Images)

Steve Howe, guitarist and Yes’s de facto leader of the moment, is currently on the road with the enduring progressive rockers. The tour is billed as The Classic Tales Of Yes, and finds the group performing music from last year’s album Mirror To The Sky and, of course, a whole host of Yes’s catalogue standards, including some “rarely played” selections.


Before his death, Alan White, Yes’s drummer for more than fifty years, gave his blessing to his successor Jay Schellen. How do you think Jay is bedding into the line-up? 

Those are difficult shoes to fill, but Jay has been in the background with us for a while. On tour, Alan would come out and do the encores, or maybe even the last song, as his capability minimised. Jay was there in the groove and ready to step up. Every musician has goals to reach. Jay has set a few of those for himself and also as part of Yes, but he’s working in [to the role] really well. 

Were you satisfied with the general response to the most recent Yes album, Mirror To The Sky, which was released in May 2023? 

Yeah. The band is enjoying moving forwards again. There have been some big gaps between albums, and there were reasons for that, but doing Mirror To The Sky so soon after The Quest [2021] gave us a real platform for development. I was very happy with songs like Luminosity and Circles Of Time

In that same spirit of industry, how is work proceeding on what would be Yes’s twenty-fourth studio album? 

There are elements [of material] going forward, but we’re in no hurry. Rushing things doesn’t work for any of the team. We’ll go there when we’re ready.

One of the most fascinating things about Yes is the band’s regular changes of leadership. As producer and driving force, you are very much the man in the driving seat at present. How does that responsibility sit with you? 

I had no goal of being the leader of Yes. I always joke that when I joined the band there were already two people arguing about it. But yeah at the moment the band does listen to me, though I’m head of a democracy. It’s a two-way street, and it works. 

All the best organisations have succession plans. Do you have somebody in mind who might take control of Yes when your turn ends? 

I don’t quite follow your question? 

Who has it in their locker to become the next leader? As the band’s second longest-serving member, could Geoffrey Downes step up? 

That’s far too presumptuous. As I’ve said, it’s not a leadership game. It’s about the person that has ideas and that can project them towards the band, that’s the spirit we’re talking about. Right now it’s me, but I can’t predict who the next guy will be. 

Do you envisage a time when you will no longer be able to continue as a member of Yes, or even have the desire to do so? 

I haven’t got a crystal ball, I don’t even know how I will feel tomorrow, but at the moment I’m happy going along with it. The band has some style, and it moves at a comfortable pace. But of course I still have external goals, particularly about playing solo guitar, which is why I released my album Motif Volume 2 last year.

Are you proud of the fact that, along with bands like the Stones, Yes are rewriting the rules of rock music? At the outset, a group could hope to last maybe five or ten years at the most. 

Absolutely. In the sixties I remember Paul McCartney saying that they [The Beatles] would be retiring soon. And I never thought that I would be in Yes again after I left [in 1981] and Asia came along. It does make me proud that we are still one of those bands that still goes out there and rocks. The Stones still do it, and so do we. I’m not into praising myself, but when I joined Yes [in 1970] there must have been some ingredient that enabled me to harmonise with Jon [Anderson] and Chris [Squire]. 

Here’s a Pseuds’ Corner question: is it important that Yes continues to exist in one form or another?

Yeah, I think that it is. When I’m not interested or unavailable, or for whatever reason, I believe that Yes should carry on. That’s down to the skill of the people that remain. 

Like Kiss, when no original members remain could Yes continue as a hologram band? 

People seem to really like the ABBA avatar show, and if that’s true I can’t see what’s wrong with it. I believe that if you don’t keep up with technology then you fall behind. 

Who picks the set-list for Yes tours? 

I don’t like to tell you how. I write a basic list, but it’s democratic. Everybody has to agree on the songs and the running order. This time there are some interesting ideas. We’ve reinvented Tales From Topographic Oceans [1973’s controversial, conceptual double album] into a twenty-minute visitation of its key moments. That’s my pride and joy at the moment.

Yes are currently touring the UK. For dates and tickets, visit the official Yes website.  

Dave Ling

Dave Ling was a co-founder of Classic Rock magazine. His words have appeared in a variety of music publications, including RAW, Kerrang!, Metal Hammer, Prog, Rock Candy, Fireworks and Sounds. Dave’s life was shaped in 1974 through the purchase of a copy of Sweet’s album ‘Sweet Fanny Adams’, along with early gig experiences from Status Quo, Rush, Iron Maiden, AC/DC, Yes and Queen. As a lifelong season ticket holder of Crystal Palace FC, he is completely incapable of uttering the word ‘Br***ton’.